This article was for Enjoy Magazine’s October 2013 issue.
Here’s some good news for Chicoans who like a fine drink to close out a bad or banner day: you don’t have to make it yourself anymore. No more digging around the fridge for an olive, muddling your way through, well, muddling, or begging a friend to come over to your hopefully-stocked home bar. Now, if you want a perfectly made Manhattan in a homey setting with good company, you can just go to The Argus.
That’s what proprietor Scott Baldwin and manager Travis Baker are hoping you’ll do. They’ve opened The Argus to provide, as Baldwin puts it, “a comfortable spot for people who drink like adults.” The new bar in the heart of downtown Chico is lofty, with exposed brick walls, teak floors, and relaxing greens and greys punctuated with classic black. The patio in back is generous, with ivy-covered brick walls, cherry trees and a redwood fence that opens up whenever the occasion calls for it. In sum, it’s the new favorite bar of people who like to drink their cocktails slowly. And it’s an endeavor 15 years in the making.
Baldwin, an entrepreneur, met Baker, a veteran of the upscale bar world, through a mutual friend when they were college students. Baldwin went into engineering and Baker rose through the ranks of the San Diego bar scene, until Baldwin decided to take a sharp left turn and their goals aligned.
“I’d been unsatisfied with what I’d been doing and I wanted to get out and do something different,” he explains. A friend suggested he pursue one of the bar licenses in town, and he
realized a creative outlet was what he needed. Not only did
he seek a project to call his own, he wanted a taproom he felt
at home in, too.
“I would walk into bars and just feel out of place because they’re student bars, but there are plenty of (non-student) people in town.” So, he called everyone who had a liquor license and asked them if they had a price. Knowing what Baker was up to in San Diego, he invited his friend to be the man behind the menu.
Baker was eager for the chance.
“People asked me more than once: ‘Why leave San Diego for Chico?’ My answer was always, ‘Why not?’”
He sees a golden opportunity.
“Sierra Nevada is a world class brewery,” he points out, “so obviously this town knows quality. Why wouldn’t we be able to up the game in the bar world also? I think people deserve the opportunity to try new things.”
New, old and ever changing: in addition to the 16 taps of craft brews, The Argus boasts a cocktail menu of classics, its own creations, and locally sourced specialties that change with the seasons. From the mint in your mojito to the lime wheel in your rickey, it’s all home grown and made from scratch. And well made, of course: these aren’t the kinds of bartenders that rely on an expensive label to do the job. For Baker and his staff, how the drink is prepared is 100 percent as important as what it’s made with.
“You’re getting properly made drinks,” Baker says. “You don’t have weird pink cherries in your old fashioned. It’s made the way it’s supposed to be: with proper stirring and shaking techniques and proper measurements.”
While savvy connoisseurs are always embraced, it’s a welcoming environment for cocktail novices, too. Baldwin says the Argus customer is anyone who likes to have fun in a comfortable environment.
“Everyone focuses on the college kid,” Baker explains, “but they also focus on mass-produced beverages. I think we can teach people to drink better, by drinking a higher caliber cocktail.”
Both are looking forward to being a part of the changing culture of Chico, and they’re not alone. Michael E. Hart, who owns of the part of the building The Argus moved into, is excited about what it and other new establishments like it represent. “I consider it to be one of many new additions that’s upgrading (the area),” Hart says. “It’s an exciting time for downtown Chico.” Having owned this portion of it for 17 years, Hart is happy to see high-caliber entrepreneurs working in the community. “(Baldwin) has been wonderful to work with, given his upscale nature and business acumen,” he says. “He’s thoughtful and decent.”
So if you’d like some thoughtfulness in your drink, and a comfortable, high caliber place to enjoy it, take a seat under a cherry tree at The Argus. •
212 West 2nd Street, Chico